Fig scrumping

Istria’s dotted with fig trees and  all summer long they’ve been steadily growing, soaking up the Istrian sun. Come early September, they’re fat and juicy and ready for harvest.  With none yet of my own, I went fig scrumping with Marija and we picked loads! (OK, I admit that in fact we had permission to go picking – but scrumping sounds so much more exciting!) Here’s our top ten figgy tips.


Whose figs were they?

Marija picking figsA friend of Marija’s owns a holiday house in Istria near Rovinj with four large fig trees. She’d just left to go back to Zagreb and called Marija soon after she got home. “I wasn’t able to pick all the figs,” she said. “If you want any, go help yourself.

There had been a storm a few days earlier and Marija wasn’t sure how many figs would still be left on the trees. After umming and erring about it, she decided it was worth going and having a look, there might be a few left at least. She called me, to see if I wanted to go along. Of course I did: I love figs and it’s one of my regrets that I don’t have figs in my garden (yet).Carpet of figs under fig tree

We set off with only limited hope, expecting most of the trees to be bare. But while there was a huge carpet of fallen figs beneath the tree next to the house, the tree was still well covered and we set-to and soon had a good haul. Of course while we picked figs, I also picked Marija’s brains …


Our fig picking tips

  • Start picking figs in … Well it varies, depending on the variety of fig and the weather. Some varieties crop earlier than others and the hotter the summer, the earlier they ripen. In general, in Istria, you can expect to start harvesting figs in mid-June and keep picking until the end of September (moving from variety to variety).
  • Marija with basket and step ladder, ready for pickingBring something to put your figs in. When we went picking, Marija brought a lovely wicker basket – it really looked the part. I brought some plastic bags, less attractive, but equally as practical.
  • Wear a hat. It’ll often be hot, exposed work. You don’t want to get sunstroke.
  • Only pick ripe figs.  Unripe figs won’t ripen after they’re picked and taste very bland, so stick to the ripe fruit.
  • What to look for. Ripe figs droop and feel softer than unripe ones. You pick them by lifting them upwards and they should separate easily from the tree. Unripe figs are harder, greener, more firmly attached and do not droop.
  • Beware of wasps. Wasps love figs as much as you do and will often be hiding round the other side of the fig, or even inside – so be careful.
  • Be careful where you walk. Fallen ripe figs are horribly squishy and slippery. If you step on one on a paved surface, you can easily slip and take a tumble.
  • Marija up step ladder picking figsPosition your step ladder securely… Why don’t manufacturers produce 3-legged step ladders for use on uneven ground? According to Marija, positioning your step ladder securely just takes a bit of patience: you will eventfully find even ground and a firm footing.
  • … and don’t fall off an insecurely positioned step ladder. I don’t have her patience. I get the ladder roughly level, decide which way, and by how much, it could tip, and then try to ensure my weight doesn’t tip the ladder in the wrong direction as I climb it. As you would guess, this doesn’t always work! So far I haven’t fallen off a ladder, but I know I will one day.
  • Don’t over stretch. It’s tempting, when at the top of a ladder, to try and lean just that little bit further, to pick the fig that’s just out of reach. DON’T. It’s just a fig – not worth a trip to casualty.
  • Eat … Fresh figs are best eaten straight off the tree. So keep yourself fortified for all the picking hard work.
  • … but don’t eat them all. At the same time, remember you’re here to harvest, not gorge, so make sure you take some home for later.
  • Wash your hands and feet afterwards. Picking figs is sticky work, so washing your hands is obvious. However, your feet can end up just as bad. So make sure you wash the soles of your shoes, or you’ll make sticky fig-footprints all over the house or car – which’ll make you really popular!
  • Come back often. If you just pick what’s ripe, there’ll be another crop ready for harvesting in a few days (until the season ends). Come back regularly and you’ll get more of the figs than the birds or the wasps.


What was our haul?

2 figs on the treeWe picked over 10 kilos of figs, in just over an hour – a very good harvest from trees which had shed most of their crop onto the ground a few days earlier. I wonder how many we’d have got if there hadn’t been the storm? And, even in early September, there was still a good crop of figs left on the trees when we’d finished. Enough for another harvest, another day.

Marija’s off to make jam with her figs – she’s got a new recipe in mind. I’m not that fond of jams or desserts, so I’m going to see what savoury dishes we can produce with my share.


Also see

 First published September 2011


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One Response to Fig scrumping

  1. Angela on 28/09/2011 at 19:22

    I saw this recipe on the TV yesterday and thought of you:

    Grilled figs


    3 fresh figs
    Cream cheese
    1 tsp cayenne pepper
    ½ garlic clove, crushed
    Spanish cured ham


    1. Peel the figs, carefully make a cross in the top of the fruit and push down each side to make an ‘open’ parcel. Place the figs on a baking tray, drizzle each one with 1 teaspoon of honey, and place under a hot grill for 8 minutes.

    2. Mix the cayenne pepper and garlic into the cream cheese and stir until combined. Split the mixture into three, wrap each bit of cream cheese mixture in some ham and place a fig on each on a serving plate.

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